The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1986, Volume 32, Number 1
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

About the book
Part 1 ~ Native People
Part 2 ~ Spanish Rule
Part 3 ~ Mexican Interlude
Part 4 ~ Yankees Move In
Part 5 ~ Boom and Bust
Part 6 ~ A New Century
Part 7 ~ Modern Times


The second World War stepped up gains tremendously. The local aircraft plants attracted workers from all over the country. Consolidated became one of the largest airframe factories in the world. Army, Navy, and Marine activities brought tremendous installations and great concentrations of men within the city limits. Camp Callan stretched five miles along the Torrey Pines Mesa, to house Army artillerymen during their training. Camp Elliott was set up on Camp Kearny Mesa to train Marines. The Marine Base and Naval Training Center were enlarged enormously. A new Marine reservation, Camp Pendleton, north of Oceanside, was the world’s largest. Houses, streets, and theaters were crowded with military and civilian newcomers to California.

While some wondered about what would happen to San Diego when peace came, far-sighted citizens already were planning for that day, Down through the years, from mission times through those of Davis’ Folly and the days of the flume, to the atomic age, such plans always have hinged upon a supply of water. By the 1940s, the rain which fell on San Diego County was being used up by the population, so far as it was practicable to collect it in reservoirs and dams.

It was fortunate that, during the Coolidge administration, Congressman Phil Swing of San Diego foresaw the requirements of the future, and co-authored the bill to provide funds for the construction of Hoover Dam, on the Colorado River. Twenty years later, when the water was sorely needed, it was only 71 miles away, where the aqueduct to Los Angeles passes through San Jacinto, in Riverside County. The first barrel of a two-pipe line to San Diego was completed in 1947, and almost immediately was taxed to capacity. In 1954 the second barrel was finished; three years later both barrels were overloaded, and the need for water still grew. By 1959 San Diego was drawing more than its allotted share from the Colorado, and fear grew that Los Angeles would need its own full quota before San Diego could develop other sources. Hopes then were entertained that water could be drawn from the rainy mountains of Central and Northern California. San Diegans led in a statewide fight to bring in water from the north, against strong opposition in the state

The end of the war, with its prospects of advanced technologies, was a great break with the past. San Diego assimilated its wartime growth as a permanent, not temporary accretion, and became a truly different place. The leading citizen of the old San Diego, George W. Marston, died in 1946, a sadly symbolic loss. He had come during the earliest years of Horton’s Additions, had founded the Marston Company and been one of the finest representatives of the business community for over three quarters of a century. Among his many contributions to San Diego were Presidio Park and the Junipero Serra Museum.

Post-war development included the disappearance of the streetcars in 1949 and their replacement by buses. Condemned for adding to the congestion of downtown streets, and for costing too much in right-of-way upkeep, the streetcars’ disappearance was greeted with as much pride as their debut. Yet many San Diegans regretted the passing of the fast, whirring trolleys, which gave rapid, comfortable service, especially on interurban runs.

Tuna Down, Port Tonnage Up

In the 1950s the fishing fleets diminished, after contributing a great deal to the community’s economic life. The successful fishermen of early New Town had been the Chinese, who built junks here for local use. Forbidden to own boats by anti-Asiatic laws, they were supplanted by the Portuguese and Italians. In 1911 a growing market for tuna forced prices up to $100 a ton on a previously little-eaten product. A cannery was opened, and fishermen thought of. nothing else but tuna. After years of steady increases in the industry, 1950 saw 200 boats (worth up to half a million dollars each) supply six local canneries with $30,000,000 worth of tuna, making San Diego the leading fishing port in the United States. Such success invited competition. Japanese and South Americans, benefiting from low wage scales and less demanding employees, cut so heavily into San Diego’s markets that, by 1960, only one cannery was left in operation and it was occupied with putting up imported frozen tuna.

In other respects maritime activities increased, particularly in the handling of exports of Imperial Valley and Mexican cotton. Broadway and B Street Piers, the existing municipal terminals, were augmented when a nine-and-a-half million dollar bond issue was passed in 1955; it financed a 96-acre terminal at the foot of Tenth Avenue. Port tonnage figures rose, and cargoes diversified. Bunkering facilities, on other than a limited basis, were provided for the first time.

The late 1950s also saw the beginning of a major shipbuilding industry when the National Steel & Shipbuilding Corporation, previously engaged in building small vessels, won government contracts for the construction of C-3 type freighters with passenger accommodations. First of these vessels, the 10,000-ton Export Agent, slid down the ways on January 30, 1960.

The aircraft Industry remained a mainstay of the local economy, although the late 1950’s saw the beginning of a trend toward the production of unmanned missiles as defensive and offensive weapons.

Scientists and Tourists

Consolidated Aircraft, after various mergers, became a subsidiary of General Dynamics. Another subsidiary, General Atomic, opened the John Day Hopkins Laboratory for Pure and Applied Science. The U.S. Naval Electronics Laboratory on Point Loma was the largest single Navy activity devoted to electronic research and development. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at La Jolla became internationally known for research in its field. San Diego became, during the 1950s a center for research into ways to create a fuller life for humanity in the future.

Still a tourist center and a developing one, San Diego drew almost $150,000,000 annually from tourism. Nevertheless, of the income of San Diego as a community, seventy-eight percent was derived directly or indirectly from defense expenditures by the Federal Government. International disarmament proposals, and defense economy measures, caused San Diegans to ponder upon what should be the direction of future economic growth.

However, during the third quarter of the twentieth century, the world did not disarm. By 1984 one out of every five dollars of the gross regional product (the total of goods and services produced in the area) came from the Pentagon. The total for that year was $6.5 billion, of which $3.26 billion was in the form of defense department contracts, $1.66 billion was active duty payroll, and $662 million was civilian payroll. All of that money turned over in the local economy many times, so San Diego remained as economically dependent on the military as it had been in times past.

Manufacturing, if production for the military is figured in, was the leading producer of income locally during the third quarter of the twentieth century, as it had been during the second. The total dollar value of San Diego’s manufactured products was $8 billion for the year of 1984. Non-military industrial sales came to $4.74 billion. Most of that was in the form of high tech products and instrumentation.

San Diego had become a center for such sophisticated production partly as a result of the development of increasingly distinguished faculties and splendid research facilities at local Institutions of higher education.

The San Diego campus of the University of California actually started during those years. It was in 1964 that the University of California at San Diego accepted its first undergraduate students. (It grew from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a branch of the University since 1912.) The school of medicine, the third in the university system, opened in 1968.

By 1984 UCSD was one of the top research institutions in the country. It is sixth in the nation among all colleges and universities in the amount of federal funds allocated for research. There are five Nobel prize laureates associated with the campus and 46 members of the National Academy of Sciences.

San Diego State University, which began as a normal school in 1897 grew to be one of the largest institutions of higher learning in the state, with an enrollment of 33,000 in 1985. By then it accounted for 25 percent of the funded research in the California state university system. It was the first school in the system to offer a doctor’s degree and is nationally recognized as one of the best schools of business administration.

After manufacturing and military and governmental activities, the third industry, in terms of dollars earned had become by the 1980s, tourism. The beaches and the world famous zoo continued to attract people as they had in the past and the development of Sea World in Mission Bay Park and the establishment of Old San Diego State Park added to the appeal of San Diego to people from places with less agreeable climates. Most visitors came from other parts of Southern California and from Mexico. In 1984 almost 29 million visitors spent over $2 billion here.

With the completion of a convention center on the bay projected for 1988, tourism is expected to loom larger in the economic life of the southwest corner of the United States in years to come. That is viewed by old and new residents with mixed feelings, since many who come as tourists are likely to want to stay, and growth has brought its problems.

The Future

The controlling factor in San Diego’s history during this century has been growth. In 1900 the population of the county was 15,000. By 1980 it was 1,861,800. The projected population at the end of the century is 2,699,300, which is almost 1,800 times more than in 1900. And that growth is expected to continue into the indefinite future at the same rate.

Demographers predict that the nature of the area’s population will change. People over 65 years of age will make up a larger proportion of the general population, 12.8 percent by the year 2000, as opposed to 10.3 percent in 1980.

Minorities — mostly Asian and Hispanic — will account for 60 percent of the population growth between 1985 and the year 2000, when whites will make up a slim majority of 51 percent.

Among the disadvantages the growth in population will bring with it is increased air pollution. By 1990 the steps being taken to deal with the problem will be outweighed by the increase in motor vehicles, and the air quality will start to deteriorate then, if present trends continue.

Other unpleasantness is anticipated. Richard Huff, executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments has said, “Probably the most visible image of our future will be rush-hour traffic jams of exasperating proportions on interstate highways and surface streets throughout the region.”

In 1985 nine miles of freeways were burdened with bumper-to-bumper traffic at rush hours. In twenty years that daily traffic jam is expected to extend over 100 miles, centering on downtown and Mission Valley.

It appears clear now that the San Diego area, which has become dependent on the automobile for personal transportation, will have to turn to other modes to provide its citizens mobility in the future. For that reason the electric railway returned to San Diego. The San Diego and Arizona right-of-way was acquired by the San Diego Metropolitan Transit Development Board and interurban passenger service on it between downtown and the Mexican border commenced in 1981. The operation has been successful and popular. As a result, expansions of the system along the major traffic corridors in the county are planned to help deal with the problem of transporting the three million people expected to live in the area early in the twenty-first century.

The increased use of public transportation, including the bus systems, holds promise as a partial solution also of the impending traffic and air pollution problems. Another partial solution lies in having people live closer to their work. Advances are being initiated in that regard, with major housing projects now going into the redeveloping downtown area.

In the past San Diego has grown and prospered because its superb climate and situation on the shore of the Pacific have made it one of the pleasantest places to live in North America. The next few decades are clearly going to be pivotal in the history of our city. The beauty that has blessed past generations of San Diegans is in the hands of the present generations, through their elected representatives, to preserve or to destroy. At the present time their decision has not been clearly and finally made.